1. Wisconsin LT Ryan Ramczyk vs Illinois DE Dawaune Smoot
While the hot names this summer are faltering it’s Wisconsin junior Ryan Ramczyk whose stock is shoot up and he is quickly becoming the top tackle prospect in the draft. Ramcyzk isn’t your typical big brooding Badger offensive lineman who moves defenders off the ball. Instead Ramczyk uses quick feet and lateral agility to mirror pass rushers and to position himself to create creases and seal off defenders in the run game. He’s held his own against Ohio State and Michigan’s edge defenders but it’s his match up against Illinois DE Dawaune Smoot that could give him his biggest test. While Smoot doesn’t have the name value of Myles Garrett or Tim Williams the Illini defensive end sure has the attention of NFL scouts. Smoot possesses an explosive first step and good acceleration that puts pressure on tackles get depth in their drops in hopes of getting them to get off balance over committing so he can use a spin move, heavy hands or even power to get to the quarterback. This match up is interesting because we’ll get to see if Ramcyzk has the footwork and agility to get depth but also not leave himself vulnerable to counter moves. While with Smoot we’ll get to see if he can counter if he doesn’t win with speed initially. It’s clear that the game won’t be exciting however this match up makes it at least watchable.
2. USC WR JuJu Smith-Schuster vs Washington CB Sidney Jones and Kevin King
Coming into the season JuJu Smith-Schuster was considered to be one of the best receivers in this class and a sure fire first round pick. However after a dreadful start to the season where he had less than 100 total receiving and only two touchdowns really raised questions whether he was a true difference maker. But when USC turned the offense over to freshman quarterback Sam Darnold it was Smith-Schuster who exploded. Smith-Schuster isn’t considered even an above average route runner he instead using athletic ability and the speed to make catches in space and let his athletic ability take over. We’ll get to see if Smith-Schuster is really back as he faces off against the top secondary in the nation. Sidney Jones isn’t just the best player in their secondary he’s one of the top corners in this draft class. Jones has good movement skills that allow him to flip his hips quickly and change direction with receivers in and out of breaks. However Jones best trait is his ability to play the ball in the air and go up and either knocks the ball out or as we’ve seen several times make spectacular interceptions. Opposite of Jones is Kevin King who is an imposing corner standing at 6’3 who uses his size and length well to compensate for a lack of good speed and quickness. Smith-Schuster moves to both sides so we’ll get to see how he can work against two different styles of corners and whether the Huskies can slow down an offense that has really hit it’s stride.
3. Washington WR John Ross vs USC CB Adoree Jackson
Continuing the USC vs Washington theme, the other side of the ball has another great match up between receiver and cornerback. A big part of the Huskies success on offense this year has been because of receiver John Ross making plays downfield all season long. Ross is an explosive receiver who can beat corners off the line with quickness and then accelerate to create separation downfield. His ability to track the ball allows him to adjust and run underneath or even come back to the ball to make his catches. Because of his speed it has allowed him to mask his lack of size, however he’ll see plenty of Adoree Jackson who has Olympic speed. Jackson isn’t a refined cornerback who has some struggles with technique, but he has done a good job of making up for it with his elite athletic ability and speed. It will be on Ross to show that he can win with more than just speed and display and utilize some body leans and route nuances that he has shown here and there in the past. This is a big game for both players as Ross needs to show he can win with more than just speed while Jackson gets an opportunity to show he can limit a big play receiver unlike last year against Notre Dame speedster Will Fuller.
4. Arkansas TE Jeremy Sprinkle vs LSU SS Jamal Adams
In a loaded tight end class that has some big names it is Jeremy Sprinkle who has been getting a lot of buzz from the scouting community. Now Sprinkle isn’t going to be mistaken for Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham but with teams looking for a complete tight end that can block and be a chain mover in the passing game will give Sprinkle a lot of attention. Arkansas is traditionally a run heavy team and we’ll see Sprinkle look to control the edge against players like Lewis Neal and Arden Key it’s his match up in the passing game against Jamal Adams out in coverage that gets my attention. Sprinkle isn’t a word class athlete but has a knack for finding holes in coverage especially off of play action. One of the main players covering him will be the strong safety that just got done playing against Alabama TE OJ Howard and was a big part of Howard only having a single catch for negative three yards. Adams is an aggressive defender but will have to be careful as Arkansas runs a lot of play action and doesn’t want to over commit. But with the athletic ability that Adams has he’ll be able to stick with Sprinkle and even close quick coming forward. What will be worth watching is how is Adams ball skills against a bigger tight end that knows how to use his body well to shield defenders and boxing them out.
5. Mississippi TE Evan Engram vs Texas A&M S Amari Watts and Justin Evans
Quite the tight end spectrum here going from the 6’6 250lb traditional tight end in Jeremy Sprinkle to the 6’3 227lb flexed tight end in Evan Engram. However with the way NFL offenses have evolved the Evan Engram type of tight end that can beat linebackers with speed and nickel corners with his size have been chess pieces for offensive coordinators. Engram has been one of the Rebels best weapons working the middle and underneath as their big receivers push downfield. While the Aggies defense will be focused not giving up big plays downfield it likely means one-on-one match ups between Engram and the Aggies two talented safeties. Watt is the Aggies free safety who likely will spend most of his time deep but has good range and will have the speed to stick with Engram when he pushes the seam. Evans on the other hand is the strong safety and is a physical player who isn’t afraid to come down and play the run game and make a big hit. He’ll likely get the assignment of covering Engram the most and we’ll get to see how well he can do against a hybrid tight end and whether he can stick with Engram on combo routes and run across the field.
6. Michigan WR Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson vs Iowa CB Desmond King
With the way that the Wolverines are rolling and the Hawkeyes have been struggling this game shouldn’t be great. However Iowa has a couple of defensive players that have first round potential in LB Josey Jewell and defending Jim Thorpe award winner Desmond King at cornerback. While Jewell will have his hands full trying to help stop the rushing attack its King vs the Wolverines two receivers that gets the most attention. It’s been a down year for King who has given up more receptions but it as you study the tape he tends to play back and tries to bait quarterbacks into throwing to his side in the hopes of getting an interception. King lines up exclusively on the right side where the Hawkeyes leave him on an island to shut that side down while they roll their coverage to the left. Throughout this game King will see both Darboh and Chesson as the Wolverines move the two players from side to side depending on the formation. Both of the Michigan receivers bring different skill sets to the table. Chesson is the better more explosive athlete of the two and will win with power and speed where as Darboh isn’t the athlete but does a much better job of setting up his routes and then creating separation with quick cuts. Because of this we’ll get to see if King play against two receivers with different skill sets in one on one situation the entire game.
7. Pittsburgh LG Dorian Johnson vs Clemson DT Carlos Watkins
While most of the Clemson defensive line left early for the NFL that doesn’t mean they left the cupboard bare allowing defensive tackle Carlos Watkins to step up into more of a prominent role. Watkins lines up at the three technique looking to use his initial burst to penetrate to get after the quarterback and disrupt the running game. Watkins will see plenty of Pittsburgh LG Dorian Johnson who is one of the best guards in this 2016 class. Johnson is a powerful run blocker who can use his strength and leverage to drive defenders off their spot. It will be important for Johnson to use quick lateral agility to cut off Watkins and to prevent penetration and then try to use his leverage to seal and open up holes for their running game. While Pittsburgh is a pretty run heavy team Johnson has the lateral agility to slide and react to Watkins as he tries to shoot gaps and then counter with rip and spin moves. If Pittsburgh wants to pull the upset they’re going to need to control the line of scrimmage and run the ball, so this is a important battle within the game.
8. Georgia Offensive Line vs Auburn Defensive Line
In a game that has big importance for both teams should come down to line play and when looking at draft match ups it doesn’t get any bigger than the Bulldogs offensive line squaring off with the Tigers defensive line. While Georgia doesn’t have the highly ranked players they do have a couple of draftable players in center Brandon Kublanow and right tackle Greg Pyke. They’ll have their hands full with the Auburn defensive line that has one of the ten best players in the 2017 draft in Carl Lawson off the edge and the incredibly athletic Montravious Adams at defensive tackle. Both Auburn defenders use their speed and burst to really put pressure on the offensive line to stop their penetration but then make it tough because they can turn that speed into power to knock them off balance and attack the quarterback. Georgia is going to pound the rock with running back Nick Chubb so it is imperative to prevent penetration and keep the offense moving on schedule. Because if they can’t and true freshman quarterback Jacob Eason is having to drop back and convert longer third down plays he’s going to have to deal with speed coming at him.